September 13, 2007


Carl Michael Ziehrer Edition, Volume 5: Operetta Overtures—Ball bei Hof; Das dumme Herz; Der bleiche Zauberer; Der Fremdenführer; Der Schätzmeister; Der schöne Rigo; Die drei Wünsche; Manöverkinder; Ein Deutschmeister; Ein tolles Mädel; König Jérôme. Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Christian Pollack. Marco Polo. $9.99.

      The few people outside Austria who still remember the name of Carl Michael Ziehrer (1843-1922) know him almost exclusively as a dance-music competitor of the Strauss family. He was certainly that – at one time, many musicians in Eduard Strauss’ orchestra balked at going on an extended tour with him and defected to Ziehrer, calling themselves “The Former Eduard Strauss Orchestra” until Strauss got an injunction against use of the name. But Ziehrer was, in fact, a fine musician in his own right, though not as skilled as the Strausses. He served three times as a military bandmaster, and his music often has a military feeling to it that differentiates it from the more freewheeling rhythms of Strauss family music. Still, much of Ziehrer’s music is charming – and he was more than a dance-music composer. He also competed with the Strausses – and later with Franz Lehár, with whom he became friendly even though Lehár was 27 years younger – in operettas. Yet this is the first CD ever released devoted entirely to Ziehrer’s operetta overtures.

      Ziehrer deserves better, and Christian Pollack – an outstanding interpreter of the light music of Ziehrer’s era – gives him his very best, thanks to beautiful playing by the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra. Thanks belong too, of course, to Ziehrer, whose operetta overtures are in many ways more attractive than his dance works, which are often rather formulaic. There is one real gem on this CD: Die drei Wünsche (“The Three Wishes”), a 1901 work that for a time held its own against nothing less than Lehár’s The Merry Widow, has an overture that really sparkles. It starts with a flourish reminiscent of Suppé, moves into particularly bouncy dance tunes, then presents an unusually affecting waltz – all in clever, well-thought-out orchestration.

      There is plenty to like in most of the other overtures here as well. The earliest, König Jérôme (“King Jerome”), dates to 1878. It is very tuneful and smooth, and features a simple waltz that is one of Ziehrer’s loveliest. The latest work here is Manöverkinder (“The General’s Children”), from 1912, which is episodic and predictably martial, including nice harp touches and a waltz in which sighs are practically audible. It is one of four works given world première recordings on this CD.

      Das dumme Herz (“The Stupid Heart” or, perhaps more forgivingly, “The Foolish Heart”) is also a world première. It has an upbeat start, uses a solo violin in ways reminiscent of Lehár, and includes nice percussion touches – but its large-scale waltz, despite being in three-quarter time, is rather foursquare. The third world première is Der bleiche Zauberer (“The White Magician”), which is quite short and contains effects that, in Mozart’s time, had been considered “Turkish.” The fourth world première is Der schöne Rigo (“Charming Rigo”), orchestrated by Pollack himself (the original orchestration is lost). Here the tunes tumble one after the other and the waltz, like many of those by Ziehrer, has a slight flavor of Lehár.

      There are two other works here that are premières of a sort. Ball bei Hof (“Ball at the Court”) includes a lovely slow waltz that, yes, sounds a bit like something by Lehár – plus another, gentle one with a violin drifting above the orchestra. This is its first complete recording. Der Fremdenführer (a mouthful for English speakers that translates as “The Leader of Foreigners” – that is, “The Tourist Guide”) is here recorded for the first time in its original form. It is more complex than many of the other overtures here. It starts with a repetitive tune, then a dramatic flourish, and then a rather silly tune that dips into the minor; then it builds in dramatic intensity, leading to a sentimental waltz featuring bird calls similar to those in several famous Strauss waltzes.

      The three remaining works are pleasant, if not particularly distinguished. Der Schätzmeister (“The Pawnbroker”) has a strong, fanfare-like opening, but its waltz has the “oompah” rhythm of Ziehrer’s lesser efforts in this form. Ein Deutschmeister, whose title refers to a famed regiment of which Ziehrer was bandmaster, features a military-sounding snare drum and trumpet calls. And Ein tolles Mädel (“Crazy Girl”), which has a military plot – a girl bets that she can go unrecognized as a female if she spends a day as a soldier in the men’s barracks – has nice harp and triangle touches, including some in a waltz section.

      Ziehrer was not a composer at the level of the Strauss family – who in 19th-century Vienna was? – but he does not deserve the obscurity into which he has fallen. Pollack makes a particularly strong case for Ziehrer through these operetta overtures. Now, how about a complete Ziehrer operetta?

1 comment:

  1. You may be interested to know that the first even recording a complete Ziehrer operetta will take place in 2008 with Die Landstreicher, which was Ziehrer's most succesful, beating box office taking of all time when it was premiered in 1899 in Vienna. West Deutsche Rundfunk (WDR) will broadcast this operetta on Friday 7 March 2008 and it will be issued later on the CPO label. Private recordings exist of the operetta Der Fremdenführer which has been produced many times in Austria and a highlights CD of another operetta, Liebeswalzer, conducted by Herbert Mogg was issed a few years ago and is still available from the Ziehrer - Stiftung (see their website). Plans are in hand for the production of Die drei Wünsche in 2008 or 2009 in Vienna.
    John Diamond